Descending into Hell

fr. earlThis is always a puzzling question. What was Jesus doing on Holy Saturday during his “descent into Hell”? Fr. Earl Fernandes, Dean and Associate Professor of Moral Theology at the Athenaeum of Ohio, takes a stab at the answer in this his May column for The Catholic Telegraph.

My husband asked me an interesting question during Lent. “Why do we only say the words ‘descended into hell’?” My explanation is that we are saying the Apostles Creed versus the Nicene Creed during this time. But that led to a deeper discussion as to, “Why did Jesus need to descend into hell?” My thoughts were that he conquered Satan and evil by dying on the cross, thus descended into hell to show that God is good. I had heard from a Baptist friend that they believe Jesus descended into hell to retrieve Abraham and other good souls who had not yet been saved, and thus were waiting for the Messiah to take them to heaven. Can you comment?

Dear Reader: You and your husband pose some interesting questions. To your husband’s question, I believe you give an accurate answer. Perhaps at your parish, during Lent and/or Easter the Apostles’ Creed is being used. The General Instruction on the Roman Missal (19) addresses this: “The Roman Church’s baptismal creed, the so-called Apostles’ Creed, may be used in place of the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, especially in Lent and Eastertide.”

The Apostles’ Creed appears to have had a primarily catechetical origin, deeply connected to baptism. Perhaps, that is why in your parish it is used during Lent as some are preparing for baptism and others are reflecting upon their own baptismal commitment in anticipation of the Easter season. While a few parishes have utilized the option for the entire year, this is rare, and in most parishes, the Nicene-Constantinople Creed is used with regularity.

As to your question as to why Jesus needed to descend into hell, the Catechism of the Catholic Church touches upon this, stating (632) that “Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.”

Continue reading Descending into Hell

Feature photo, Harrowing of Hades, c. 1315, courtesy of Creative Commons/Wikipedia.

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